Surprising partnerships and novel ideas launch campaign to solve water crises

Posted: Wednesday 20th February 2013

Growing recognition that solving the looming water crisis will require innovative thinking and new partnerships brought experts from several sectors to Rotterdam recently.

On the eve of World Wetlands Day and with the UN International Year of Water Cooperation as a backdrop, Wetlands International, WBCSD and the City of Rotterdam co-hosted international leaders from business, government and the NGO sector to launch the “Get the solutions flowing” campaign. The campaign will run through 2013 and aims to catalyse an Agenda for Action that turns talk into action on behalf of natural water infrastructure.

From islands of success to oceans of change

Around the globe, awareness is growing that inland and coastal wetlands, or natural water infrastructure, are areas of outstanding value to society, particularly for their role in supplying and regulating water. The world’s future food and energy security depend on them. Business and industry are growing increasingly concerned about water scarcity risks. Wetlands have great economic value, so why are we destroying them even faster than tropical rainforests?

How can we share the costs and benefits of securing wetlands as natural water infrastructure across sectors and landscapes? How can we move from ‘islands of success to oceans of change’ in the way we use wetlands to help manage our water risks? During an international event co-hosted by Wetlands International, WBCSD and the City of Rotterdam, experts from business, governments and NGOs searched for new ways to turn the tide - and found surprising ways to do so.

Green and grey delta planning: the Dutch Delta Works

Delta Commissioner Wim Kuijken kicked off the event by highlighting the role that ecological restoration can play in meeting the demands of the Netherlands Delta Programme. Challenges such as climate change and soil subsidence are poised to require ever greater exertions and capital to ensure continued safety and environmental benefits. The natural safety measures and environmental services provided by wetlands can make important contributions to meeting the goals of the Delta Programme, such as reducing the risk of flooding while providing clean drinking water, Innovative thinking as embodied by Building with Nature also has a key role to play in delivering future ecological and economic benefits.

Greening our city planning

Alexandra van Huffellen, Vice-Mayor of Rotterdam, drew attention to the leading role that cities such as Rotterdam are taking to address sea level rise and drinking water protection in ways that protect and restore natural water infrastructure. The creation of the 1000 hectare Eiland IJsselmonde wetland and solutions such as floating buildings, green facades and roofs were presented as novel examples of combating flooding problems that will be posed by climate change.

The Agenda for Action

Roundtable working groups and a panel discussion delivered several key action items to influence drivers of change.

Partnerships and the business case for wetlands

An essential part of the campaign will be to partner with business and investors to drive action on behalf of water infrastructure. Protecting and restoring wetlands can be an engine of green job creation. Take the

idea from knowledge foundation Deltares for Lake Victoria in Kisumu Bay, Kenya, where excess nutrients are causing the invasive water hyacinth to grow unchecked, threatening the ecological health of the lake. The solution: restoring the wetlands. Ask the local population to harvest the hyacinth and sell it to a biofuel plant, which produces energy out of the hyacinth. At the same time, working with hotels to stop the discharge of nutrient-rich waste into the lake, and instead sell it to the biofuel plant. Additionally, restoring the ecological functions of the wetlands to filter pollutants based on the Building with Nature program. All of this is based on a business model 'Nafanya Maisha' which in turn is based on the 'Big Water' model. Investors are being approached to finance this truly innovative idea.

A call for champions

To take the campaign forward, successful solutions need to be replicated and shared worldwide. Champions at all levels of society, from grassroots, to government and business are needed to profile good practices: a community chief leading his people; a crown prince putting the issue on the public agenda; captains of industry investing in green solutions to water problems; and mayors inspiring innovative and sustainable practices.

The coming campaign aims to create a major ripple effect in governments, business and NGOs to ensure wetlands are at the centre of the solutions.

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